Tag Archives: productivity

#315: On the Penultimate Day of April, the English Teacher in his Penultimate Year Writes a Long Rambling Poem Inspired by Sylvia Plath’s Burst of Productivity in the Months Before She Died

I’m not going anywhere,
but (having lost now both mom and dad)
I notice thoughts about mortality
enter the noggin with more frequency
these days. I’m reading, or rather,
listening to Life Reimagined, where
Barbara Bradley Hagerty argues
essentially that there is really no such
thing as a mid-life crisis for most
mid-lifers. Much of that belief is
myth, she says, and she’s beginning
to share a number of conclusions
she’s come to about how to maximize
the middle. And this, from Sylvia
Plath’s “Crossing the Water.”

Black lake, black boat, two black, cut-paper people.
Where do the black trees go that drink here?
Their shadows must cover Canada.

Rosencrantz comes to mind,
who asks, do you think death could
be like a boat? Guildenstern’s reply is
that death is the ultimate negative, that
one could not NOT be on a boat.

Rosencrantz: I’ve often not been on boats.
Guildenstern: No, what you’ve been is not on boats.

While I find these lines hilarious,
don’t ask me to explain what they mean.
I’m on deck, though, with Guildenstern.
Which brings me back to Hagerty’s
meditation on middle age, and back
to Plath, who wrote 67 poems in the last
ten months of her life, some of her best
work, I understand, though I’m no expert.
I love what I’ve read of hers, though,
and I’m sad when I think about her early
death. But she was a force, and I find
this burst of productivity at the end of
her life more inspiring than anything
else, having no reason to expect an
early demise, feeling healthy (give or
take 10 pounds and the discipline
to drink less and exercise more),
and having written 29 poems in
29 days, 315 poems over five years,
in short, I feel hopeful about my middle
and sometimes, manically inspired,
like there’s a bug or a boat or a voice
whose insistent refrain is create, create.
Make poems, make music, tell stories,
read books, walk in the woods, camp
under stars, and stop worrying about
those papers sitting on my desk right
now that need grading. Whether or not
this is in actual fact my penultimate year,
I nevertheless resist working harder
at the finish and instead continuing to
work smarter and better, to ignore the nag,
that other bug, boat, voice, cut-paper
people, those black trees casting a
shadow over all of Canada. I’d like
to go back to Canada. Live there, even.
But that, is truly, a digression.
And I don’t know how to close.
Let’s just optimistically choose
a new color and end with what
Peter Sears called poetry by corruption:

Blue lake, blue boat, three blue, true-blue people.
Why do the blue trees stop to drink here?
Their shadows, blue, sprouting their thick,
green, springtime oak leaves, shout O Canada,
because at the top, Victoria seems only like
a block or two away.

Postscript: Super cool Sylvia Plath website– https://plathpoetryproject.com

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Of The End of Winter Break and a Bunch of Other Of

Sunday, January 6, the end of Winter Break in the school district for which I work.  Always mixed feelings about the end of any lengthy break from teaching. There’s some dread about having to get up and work hard again, always.  And there’s a sense of discombobulation and confusion about what it was we were doing before this two week interruption and how again were we supposed to get back to business.  But there’s also a sense of longing again for the normal rhythm of the school day and the five day work week, for mostly positive interactions with colleagues whose company I sincerely enjoy and miss, and for my students who, because there are just so damn many of them, guarantee always that no day will be the same as the last day.

It’s been a productive little break for me, but in unexpected ways.  I’ve been writing like a fiend.  This will be my eighth blog entry in two weeks time–nine, if I decide to publish the really weird one I wrote about prepositions.  I wrote almost 2,000 words toward a new novel.  I decided to participate this January in an off-shoot bastard child of National Novel Writing Month, January Novel Revision Month–which for me, will  be less like revision and more like drafting, but without the kind of hard core goal of 50,000 words in a single month. I have made for myself a goal of 20,000 words.  We’ll see about that once the work week kicks up again.  So, this productivity has come with some costs.  I feel selfish. We haven’t done very many things as a family this break.  I read only about 70 pages into one book by Andrew Pham called The Eaves of Heaven and played around a lot in The Onion Book of Known Knowledge.  We saw The Hobbit. I didn’t see very many friends. Didn’t make any progress on the new Here Comes Everybody recording–which I fantasized about finishing over the break.

Productivity seems to be always a kind of balancing act and all the things I’d like to get done during a break away from teaching get thrown into a big sack and tossed around and dumped out and always some things get done, maybe even some really impressive things get done, like nine blog entries and 2,000 words of fiction, but nevertheless, I feel somehow disappointed.  It’s a personal problem, I know.   

And the project to enlist subject matter help for blog entries from readers and friends has been fascinating and inspiring.  I may keep going with this, but I like the idea of this blog entry being a kind of conclusion to that particular project–which is a bit of a problem, because I got lots of subject matter suggestions that I have yet had an opportunity to tackle, a whole bunch of other OF essays that I did not get to write. So, perhaps, in conclusion, it might be fun to tackle a bunch of those in short form–the aphoristic OF essay.

Of Aging:  I’ve been thinking about this one a lot and have come to the conclusion finally that there’s not a lot of good to say about it.  With age comes wisdom and with wisdom comes ambiguity and with ambiguity comes complexity and confusion, pain and suffering.

Of Sanguinity:  Despite that fact that aging is not good for anyone, at least physically, there are always things to be happy about.

Of Textbooks:  except textbooks.

Of Eternity:  We are blips in space and time.

Of Milk:  I hate those posters of celebrities with milk mustachios.  They seem somehow obscene.  And I hate the grammar problem there, also.  No, I don’t got milk.  I don’t have any milk.  Or, if I do got milk, I have it.  I have milk.  But that’s no good either.  I am drinking milk in this moment.  Or, yes, there is milk in the fridge and I can drink it if I choose.  Otherwise, outside of my aversion to this particular ad campaign, I am totally in favor of milk, enjoy it on cereal, appreciate its contribution over the years to the health of my bones, and recommend it to young people everywhere.  And I’m fascinated by the thought of the first human being to ever drink the stuff or suggest drinking it to others.

Of Beer:  I love beer.  Last night I had a really great one, aged in bourbon barrels, served in a brandy snifter.  I love bourbon and brandy and beer.

Of Good That Comes From Vice:  Good things come from drinking beer.  But in particular, with this one, I was thinking about how much blog writing I finished in my efforts to procrastinate the writing of fiction.

Of Sincerity:  This one fascinates me.  Especially as a teacher, or as an artist, there are a bizillion opportunities to tell people what you think of them and their work.  I find it difficult to be sincere and positive all of the time.  Sincere negativity, while it’s honest,  is not always helpful because it has the potential to hurt.  But I would rather say nothing than to say something positive when I don’t mean it. And I often find myself NOT responding when students say stupid things–and I know sometimes they perceive that as negative response.  Did I just say that sometimes students say stupid things?  That was a moment of sincerity.  They really do sometimes say stupid things.  But I would never say to a student, “that was a stupid thing to say.”  Is that, then, insincerity?  Not exactly.  Do you see the problem? I guess you’re not being insincere just because you don’t speak out loud what you honestly feel–out of respect, decorum, or common courtesy.  That’s just about being in the world and not making enemies and trying to be kind as often as you can without lying to people.

Of Strange Phobias:  I have little first hand knowledge of this, but I can imagine all kinds of interesting things of which to be afraid: bean bags, Scotch tape, post-it notes, music, flowers, cute puppies, dust motes, light, sugar, pencils, insert any mundane object here.  In a twisted world you could make any of these things scary,  I suppose, and that has to be the answer, right, that people who are afraid of the mundane, or conversely, those who are in love with or who fetishize the mundane, have had some kind of life-twist, biologically or experientially, that has made them respond to particular objects in “strange” or at least unconventional ways.  Of this one, someone should write a book.  I’m 99% sure someone already has.

Of Ghosts:  A great song by the 80’s English pop band Japan.  Otherwise, yes, I believe in ghosts–as memories.  I’m haunted on a regular basis by quite a few, thank you very much.

Of Music As Language:  There’s nothing else to say, perhaps, at this juncture, other than, yes, music is a language, universally understood, perhaps, the solution to all of humanity’s problems.  I don’t know if I believe that, but I’d like to.

Of Course:  Yes.  That’s it.  It’s obvious.  It’s true.  I am in complete agreement.  No doubt about it.  Of course.

And in conclusion–Of Gratitude for Good Suggestions for Blog Topics:  thanks to Michelle, Michelle, Mary, Chris, Chris, Kraig, Cary, Jim, Kerstin, Eric, Jeff, Cody, Brandon, Ostin, Don the Geek, and if I’ve forgotten someone I am terribly sorry.

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Filed under Culture, Education, Parenting, Self Reflection, Teaching, Writing and Reading